Saturday, February 23, 2019

Jill Nolan, Surgical Nurse

Book 2 of 4
By Adeline McElfresh, ©1962
Cover illustration by Mort Engel

As a skilled, disciplined surgical nurse, Jill Nolan was well prepared to assist at critical operations. But, as a woman in love, could she forget that the man fighting for his life on the operating table was Tom Ratcliff, her attractive, wealthy fiancé?


“We can use a change of male scenery around this place.”

Jill Nolan is one of those fickle professionals who, having worked for years to put themselves through nursing school, is now ready to chuck it all when Tom Ratcliff slips that band of gold onto her finger. Early on in the book, her contented dream is to “be Mrs. Thomas Ratcliff, not Nurse Jill Ratcliff, with all the responsibilities that went with her new name.” What those responsibilities might be, why they’re more important than her responsibilities as a nurse, and why the author missed this awful dangling modifier, escape me.

Jill’s engagement comes as a bit of a surprise because at the close of Jill Nolan, R.N., she was smooching Dr. Al Harper on her way out the door of a relationship with fiancé Vince Merrill, while having “warm glowy” thoughts about another character altogether, and Tom Ratcliffe was not even a named character in that book (though the married Carl Ratliffe, who is not a character in this book, is). So how did she give three men in the first book the slip? Is there another Jill Nolan book hiding out there that my searches have not turned up? The head-scratching that we closed the first book of the series continues in the start of this, which is not a good omen.

Enter Dr. Donald Jonathan Gifford, a brilliant surgeon who has his pick of two top posts but chooses to take up at Bradburn Memorial Hospital in Seymour, Kentucky, where Jill and the scant roster of her fellow nurses and doctors overwork themselves. Now, after she’s decided that she likes Giff—and “the knowledge brought a warm, small glow deep inside”—she’s starting to feel a bit of “reluctance” at the idea of quitting her job, which pops up during a drive she takes with the doctor. Before long she’s chafing at the bit on every other page, quietly stewing over Tom’s resentment that her job takes up a lot of her time—and his hypocrisy when he runs off to fix some problem at work and leaves her cooling her heels, or when he’s upset that she doesn’t share his devotion to his chemical plant despite the fact that he can’t condone her devotion to nursing—and it gets downright tiresome. “Tom felt that, if nursing were such a challenging and satisfying profession, let it be a challenge and a satisfaction to someone else, as, after they were married, it would have to be.” “I don’t want to share you,” he tells her. “With you I’m second.” Then there’s the wavering, when after a long day at the hospital, she “obediently” makes a tour of the plastics factory with Tom even though she’s dog tired. “It was her duty, she had told herself sternly, many times before, for she would not be marrying just Tom Ratcliff. Whether she liked it or not, she would be marrying Ratcliff Plastics, Incorporated.” But the more time she spends with Giff, the more she begins to think that she might not feel for Tom “a love deep enough to compensate for giving up nursing to marry him […] the kind of love that she would need if she were to be happy with only Tom and not the nursing career she had dreamed of since childhood.”

All this back-and-forth between the two men is sandwiched between two crises at the plastics factory. Chapter One opens with a big fire at the plastics plant, and a number of men are wounded, including Tom. One of Jill’s many moments of panic comes when she is obliged to assist during the operation on his depressed skull fracture and hemorrhaging middle temporal artery. He pulls through, of course, thanks to Giff, but now we’re all in a dither about the fire: “If that fire had been set—! For heaven’s sake, who could hate Tom so much?” But it’s all a lot of, if you will, smoke and mirrors: After pages of hysterical italics, it turns out that the fire was set by the flip of a careless cigarette. However, we’ll be meeting the italics again: An oil tanker crashes at the plant and an unnamed worker is pinned. After 150 pages of complaining about Tom’s oppression, she’s freaking out: “Oh, God, please, not Tom, again!” If it is him, she decides, she’s not going to tell him that she doesn’t love him anymore! But he’s not hurt, and when Dr. Gifford goes crawling under the truck to get the trapped man, Tom forbids Jill from going in with Giff. From one extreme to the other: “Jill jerked free. ‘Don’t try to stop me!’ oh! Tom Ratcliff! How could I ever have thought I loved you?” She helps Giff patch up the severed subclavian artery, and now he’s the lucky recipient of her hysteria: “Giff, oh, Giff darling, be careful!” Bleah.

The writing in this book is pretty perfunctory. Ms. McElfresh likes to explain in great detail each surgery that Jill witnesses. While this could be interesting, if you don’t understand all the anatomy and surgical equipment, it passes over the reader’s head. In addition, she is unfortunately enamored with the idea of using medical jargon as descriptors in her writing, so we are treated to far too many gems such as, “a lancet of apprehension,” “half-anesthetized by a fresh burst of terror,” “Dr. Bradford’s terse nod ligated the swift-burgeoning fear.” The hysteria that populates this book reminded me somewhat of Marie Warren, Night Nurse, but without that book’s camp or very peculiar charms. This is the second book in the series, and it’s never a good sign when you’re not looking forward to hearing about Jill’s further adventures.

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